Taiwan has obtained about 200,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University via the first round of the COVAX scheme, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) confirmed yesterday, saying that vaccinations might start next month at the earliest.
The CECC on Thursday announced that Taiwan was listed among the countries that would receive COVID-19 shots through the COVAX global vaccine distribution scheme, which includes 1,303,200 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine allocated to non-UN member states.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, yesterday said a delivery date has not been set yet, but added that COVAX has been in contact with Taiwan over the past two days.
Photo: EPA-EFE/DGA/Luis Correas Handout
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), who is the CECC’s spokesman, on Thursday said the delivery of the vaccines could being as soon as next month.
Delivery would begin after the WHO issues an emergency use approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine and notifies countries about distribution amounts and delivery schedules, he said, adding that vaccination can begin as early as a week after the shots arrive.
Chen yesterday confirmed the schedule outlined by Chuang and said that as preparations are already being made, inoculation would begin as soon as the vaccines are received, with healthcare professionals and essential frontline workers having first priority.
Asked about reports that the AstraZeneca vaccine has limited efficacy against a South African variant of COVID-19 and that South Africa has halted its rollout of the vaccine, CECC specialist advisory panel convener Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) said the company’s early data on a relatively small group of people have shown that the vaccine might have limited efficacy in preventing mild and moderate cases of the new strain.
As the vaccines are being administered under emergency use approval, more data would become available, he said.
The CECC would continue to closely monitor the latest data and evaluate how different types of vaccines should be administered in Taiwan, he added.
In related news, Chen said that 4,345 people associated with a cluster infection at Taoyuan General Hospital are still under home isolation.
All hospital personnel and contract workers who underwent a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test from Wednesday to Friday last week tested negative for COVID-19, he said.
Presenting a preliminary report on the cluster, CDC Deputy Director-General Philip Lo (羅一鈞), deputy chief of the CECC’s medical response division, said nine of the 20 confirmed cases in the cluster had contracted the disease directly at the hospital, while the remaining cases had come into close contact with them.
The first infection, as well as a second and third wave of infections at the hospital, occurred within a few days — from Jan. 7 to 14 — showing that viral transmission in the hospital can occur very quickly, which posed challenges to rapid contact tracing, isolation and testing, Lo said.
Some cases had an incubation period of five to seven days, so they initially tested positive and became infectious a day after undergoing a PCR test, he said.
Finding the appropriate timing to conduct PCR tests was also a serious challenge and needs further evaluation, he added.
As part of its emergency response measures at the hospital and in local communities, the CECC for the first time launched an online service for people under isolation, quarantine or self-health management due to the cluster, to let them consult with physicians.
It was also the first time that container houses were set up as temporary testing stations, he said.
The CECC would continue to review and improve the measures to prevent and handle hospital infections, as well as community response measures, including establishing a more efficient model for large-scale testing and isolation, Lo said.
Chen said an imported case of COVID-19 was confirmed yesterday.
The patient is a Taiwanese woman in her 20s who returned from the UK and tested positive in a paid test after completing 14 days of centralized quarantine and seven days of self-health management, he said.
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